Naming Numbers

Mitla Ruina Every language has a system for naming numbers. Notice how names are based on tens in English, with -ty meaning ‘tens’:
20 twenty 30 thirty 40 forty 50 fifty
60 sixty 
70 seventy  80 eighty 
90 ninety

Names for numbers in many languages of Mexico, like Ch'ol, spoken in Chiapas, are based on twenties. Notice how the Ch'ol word c'al ‘twenty’ is used:

1  jun 20  jun c'al
2  cha'  40  cha' c'al
3  'ux  60  'ux c'al
4  chinverted v 80  chinverted vn c'al  
5  jo'  100  jo' c'al
6  winverted v 120  winverted vc c'al
7  wuc  140   wuc c'al
8   waxinverted v 160   waxinverted vc c'al
9   bolon  180   bolon c'al
10  jujun  200   jujun c'al

Systems based on tens require a word for 10 x 10; that is, ‘a hundred’. Systems based on twenties need a word for 20 x 20, or 400. This word in Ch'ol is bajc'. For example, with cha' ‘two’, cha' bajc' names 800.

The next special word after ‘one hundred’ in English names 10 x 100, that is, ‘one thousand’. The next word in Ch'ol after ‘400’ is jun pic, which names 20 x 400, or 8000.

Here is the Ch'ol name for the large number 123,632:

jo' lujun pic      yic'ot     bolon bajc'      yic'ot      lajinverted vn pejl        icha' c'al

((5+10) x 8000)      +      (9 x 400)               +           12               of a 2nd 20

120,000             +           3,600                 +                                        32  

Compare that with the English name for 123,632:

one hundred twenty-three thousand six hundred thirty-two

((1x100) +20 +3) x 1000   +  ((6 x 100)  +30 +2)


The original Mixtec system was similar to the Ch'ol system. It had simple names for 1 through 10, 15, 20, 400, and 8000, which combined to name larger numbers as indicated in  an English Summary: or in the original Spanish: (“Los números del mixteco antiguo”).


Huichol, spoken in Nayarit and Jalisco, has special words to name the numbers 1 to 5 and 10; and then 6-9 are named by phrases based on the words for 1-4 with the word 'ataa which means ‘plus five’.

HUICHOL: 
1 zewí   6 'ataa zewí
2 huuta 7 'ataa huuta
3 haika 8 'ataa haika
4 nauka 9 'ataa nauka
5 'auzinverted vwi 10 tamámata

The word tamámata ‘ten’ is possibly based on the words tamaa + máa ‘our hands’.

In Huixtec Tzotzil, a Mayan language of Chiapas, the word for ‘twenty’ is winic, which is also the word for ‘person’.

Question: What does the number ‘twenty’ have in common with a ‘person’?

Clue: How many fingers and toes does a person have?